Sunday, November 30, 2014

Conditional Generosity?

Conditional Generosity?

I believe that we are really good at cheapening some of God’s most beautiful gifts. One of those gifts that I have most recently been aware of abusing is the gift of generosity. Christ lived a life that showed that love is not conditional. Yet I fall short in the area of viewing my generosity as being a conditional kind of thing. I would say that I was unknowingly of the mindset that some of the gifts and fruits of the Spirit are things that are earned and deserved and others are not. Because I felt this way about giving I had a hard time with true generosity, always trying to decide the difference between the deserving poor and the undeserving. I would see a homeless man for example and wonder about the choices he made to get to that place rather than just allow the conviction of true kindness to win out.

I was putting a list of requirements on it like I do when I tip at a restaurant. Like a waitress that makes several trips to check on my food and fills my drink I feel the generosity well up inside of me to bless her hard work, but then I penalize a waiter that lazily sits in the break room smoking, while I go thirsty. I wanted my mandatory “gift” to be deserved. This mindset then followed into the not so mandatory areas of giving. I would question every situation in which it was in my power to act with thoughts like “Would the homeless person use my gift to eat or would he waste it on alcohol and drugs.” I felt justified in my questioning and I decided that giving should be something I would be wise and shrewd about and only if God truly put it on my heart to give, would I give. I didn’t understand that most likely by the time that God spoke it would be too late or that by the time he broke through all the callused layers of my heart I would have lost an opportunity to love. I didn’t know that I had gotten so judgmental about those in need until I recently had an experience with giving that really showed me that I needed to let God purge a little bit of my selfishness out of the mix.

It was just a gas station, I was getting gas, some drinks and snacks for the long six hours ahead. I had my youngest with me, a sweet little three year old full of joy and excitement as we chose our special treat. In the next isle over a father and two little girls were also picking out snacks and drinks. When he went to pay his card was declined. He went out to get money from his girlfriend and when he came back he told the excited girls to put it back, because they had to go. I didn’t even hesitate, maybe because the girls were a reflection of innocence, maybe because God got through to me, but I offered to pay for the snacks. “No just put it on mine.” I said to the teller. He felt embarrassed and starting to decline it, he said, “I feel bad.” I said, “No, don’t feel bad, you have some really precious girls, consider it an early thanksgiving.” He thanked me more than once and we went our ways.

My original thought was that he was acting a little strange, like a man on something, or coming off of something (probably drugs). But that was usually the case with me, I find a million reasons why I shouldn’t just give. I felt a mix of feelings getting into the car and driving through the flat uninteresting prairie of Nebraska. For miles I had nothing to do but count windmills and plenty of time to think. I thought about how good it felt to show Love to a stranger, but I also felt a deep conviction at how new that feeling felt. I would be lying to say the good feeling somehow made up for the selfishness I had been passing off as good judgment or discernment. I felt as though that little bit of light was shining a whole lot brighter because this area in me was a dark and unfamiliar place. I was exposed.

I am not meaning this to be a word that brings condemnation but sometimes revelation to our not so pretty areas tends to feel a bit disturbing at times. I prayed for that man and his family, for those girls, for Jesus to be revealed in all of his goodness. I prayed for forgiveness for the times I just shut out others because I was uncomfortable or uninterested. I also asked God to continue to work in me in this area and to help me not to put stipulations on his goodness. We tend to get a little prideful and want to bless those that we feel are deserving but when we do the choosing aren't we playing God's part? Only God knows what God knows and he has given freely to all. I remembered a verse from Proverbs that spoke to this very situation. Proverbs  3:27 Do not withhold help from those who need it when you have the ability to help.

I am so thankful that Christ took this verse to heart. He was the only one who had the ability to help us. His very life showed compassion and mercy and grace and forgiveness. It is never about what we have or have not done with Christ. With Christ it is the message that no matter how much or how little sacrifice we put before him, His sacrifice was enough to cover our bill. He didn’t ask us how we got there, and he didn’t even care because he saw us as a valued creation, as God’s beloved children and he offered his life to be the sacrifice that would bring us into a place where we could finally know our Father, know a God who this world claims has long left, a God that in truth has been waiting for his children to seek him, rather than chase them as they run. Make no mistake our God has pursed us even unto the death of his very son who offered himself as the way to show that he would go to hell and back for us. He came for us all, he died so that we could understand a love that puts no shame to our name. So as I contemplated my decision to call myself a child of God, I realized that I, not unlike Christ need to show his unconditional love, his unconditional grace and his unconditional generosity.

God may we become more like you, more generous, more kind and more open to love. You are a generous God and if we are really your children than we too should be a reflection of your unfailing generous spirit. Holy Spirit breathe your truth in us and teach us how to stop reacting to the worlds ways and start acting out of love and kindness. We want to honor you in all we do and we know that one of the ways we can do this is by reflecting the truth of your loving kindness.  You are the perfection of balance in all things and we ask for that balance of wisdom and generosity to be present in our lives. We can never love too much, or give too much, or show you too much to others. Let us be as generous with others as you have been with us. Amen

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Language Barrier

The Language Barrier


Maybe its pride or maybe just lack of understanding but how many times have I found myself blankly staring into space wondering why I can’t hear God, or why I don’t understand what he is speaking to me.  I say maybe its pride because in our culture we expect everyone to meet us where we are instead of going the extra mile to meet them in the middle.

Several years ago I traveled to Paris with my best friend. We had just spent a week in Ireland and thought it was worth a few extra bucks to hop over to the beautiful city of love, enriched in culture. The week in Ireland that we spent was amazing and very successful due to several things; one, we had a tour guide and two, the Irish speak English. The further south we traveled in Ireland the harder to understand the dialect but it was still possible to communicate on a somewhat sophisticated level. The three days following when we arrived in Paris however was another story altogether.

Arriving in Paris the two of us (neither one knowing a lick of French) began our adventure. We managed to find our way but found many obstacles in not knowing the language. It was often frustrating and I found myself resenting the French people for not speaking English. Here I am in someone else’s country and I, in my arrogance think that they should know my language.  We found ourselves lost and unprepared for this giant adventure more than once.

I find this story enlightening because it is a direct parallel to how we interact with God when communicating with him. 1 Corinthians 13 describes the language barrier very well. God speaks love and unfortunately that is not our native language. “When I was a child, I thought like a child, I spoke like a child but when I grew up I put away childish things…” The love chapter describes a language and gives us the blueprints for speaking it. Love is patient, kind,… It is not selfish, it does not want,… It keeps no record of wrongs…”

So very often we get very upset when we can’t hear God, or when we don’t understand what he is saying. We want him to speak our language so that we can communicate and understand but he loves us too much to let us operate in the world’s native language.

I think back to that trip to Ireland, I mentioned that we had two things that made the trip effortless; a tour guide, and we spoke the same language. Also when we had a hard time understanding the southern dialect our guide doubled as a translator. God is offering those same things for us in the spiritual realm. He gives us the Holy Spirit and his word. Both are vital in learning this new language. Sometimes it seems like a lot of work but I can only imagine the great reward that is in store for those who start to learn this new language.

If I had applied these principles to the trip to Paris several things would have looked different. I would have been a lot less frustrated and also I would have been protected from a very dangerous situation. Honestly it was very stupid for two attractive young females to go to foreign city known for human trafficking with no understanding of the language, not to mention they knew no one on the entire European continent who could help them if they had gotten into trouble.

We learned three whole words the entire time,: “Merci” and “Excuse Moi”. “Thank you” and “Excuse Me”. Joking that that is all you need to communicate in France. But how arrogant and sad is it that we thought we could get by with three words? And yet we try to speak the language of love with God, saying only “Thank you” and “I’m sorry.” Never furthering the conversation.  

We can go through our entire lives trying to get by with a few words we know but the depth of our relationship will be at stake, and chances are we will default to our selfish tongue as soon as we are agitated or tired of not being able to communicate. Or as soon as we hear something from God that just seems too hard to translate. When I look into the eyes of my child after speaking the enemies native tongue of evil, I vow with my whole heart to learn how to speak love but then I go about doing it on my own, only getting frustrated by the process. God desires for us to spend intimate time with him, sometimes there is a little bit of work involved but most of the time we learn his language just by spending time in his presence, we learn by emersion. We learn by doing.

If you are finding yourself saying the words… “I just don’t hear God.” Or “I just don’t understand what God is saying.” It is very possible you are either not listening or you are trying to translate with the wrong language as your base.

God doesn’t let us walk into a place of peace and rest while carrying luggage laden with worry and doubt and fear and hate, unforgiveness and bitterness. If you feel like you are standing in front of a door and He just isn’t letting you in. It’s probably time to check your luggage. He wants you to enter into his freedom with Thanksgiving and Praise, with the lightness of all your burdens laid at his feet. Sometimes it seems as if God is the security guard, checking our bags for harmful items before we get to go any further, but the truth is, it is a long road ahead and we won’t make it with those heavy bags. He has a plan for our success, we have to lay down some stuff. We need to accept his helper, his translator, The Holy Spirit. We have to quit trying to get God to speak our language. He wants to speak to us with His language of love. But as long as we cling to the past of what we have always known and reject the tour guide and translator of this beautiful language we will never understand or comprehend what God is doing or saying.

Do we want to go on being childish, arrogant, lacking knowledge, confused, afraid and alone? God doesn’t want us to feel alienated. God morns for His Children as we sit in our ignorance.  So often we blame Him for the silence as we refuse to walk into the sound of His beautiful voice. Are we ready to break the language barrier?


God I have gotten by on the words “Thank you” and “excuse me” for far too long. Please forgive me for not learning to speak your language more fluently. I have been arrogant and childish and I want to understand you. I want to hear you and I want to speak love to others the way you speak love to me. Thank you for the Helper that you have given us. He is such a beautiful translator of your truth and love. I need him every day to guide me through. Holy Spirit take this my broken and imperfect tongue and give it words of wisdom and life. I want to follow your every move. I don’t want to miss the beautiful surprises that in store for me as I obediently follow you into places I would never find on my own. Your word oh God is such a perfect guide. Thank you for giving us a way to hear you. I pray we would not waste our days here but bring heaven to earth and speak your love every day. Amen

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Lock Out

It was my first school lockout. I quickly held in the overwhelming emotion to keep my son from seeing my fear. The words, “No one goes in, no one comes out.” It was any ordinary day, all except for the fact that when I took my son to school at 12:30 for half day kindergarten, I couldn’t drop him off. My daughter was in there, in her second grade class. Was she o.k.? Was she scared? Was she safe?

I immediately called to God, and he quickly responded with a peace that can only be explained by the beauty of his desire to comfort me. I could feel his touch, hear his voice and my heart quickly calmed to the gentle pace of his smooth breathing. As a child who lays her head on her father’s chest to rest and find the comfort and warmth of the sound of his beating heart. It was a second, only a second, but enough time for my nerves to be calmed and to remember that my children are in his loving hands and their safety is his responsibility. One child locked in, One locked out.

These are the moments we call upon our faith and we see just how deep our well is. On this day it was full, thankfully full. But some days it seems as though the tiniest hiccup can derail me all together. We don’t see the need for our source of strength (God) when we think we have enough on our own to carry us through. I found myself in a different kind of lock out the other day. Emotional, Mental, and Spiritual in nature this lock out was caused by the threat of a less mysterious danger… Myself. 

Maybe you have experienced that moment when you fail someone so badly, you wonder if you can come back from it. For me it was with my son. Was the cause of my anger toward him some horrible thing he had done to deserve my wrath? I guess that depends on if you think spilling some oatmeal on the floor is worth the death sentence. The way I reacted you would have thought so. I guess the idea is that if you keep drawing from the well and never put back into it, eventually you come up empty. And unfortunately this well was not the living well, it was my own personal well, one that had been completely drained by a lack of sleep and my desire to carry my own burdens and try to do everything myself.

In that moment when you realize that you just called your child stupid, or you hit him out of anger, you truly feel the shock of the “lock out.” What have I done? You see the child that you love, close himself up out of protection. And until the threat is resolved, you are locked out. The shame I felt and the possibility that my son would not be able to forgive me created what could have been a very long lock out. But as shame crept further in I chose to break its hold with the simple offering of a genuine apology. I asked my son to forgive me and I explained that I was wrong to say those words and that in fact the very opposite is true. The living Well inside of me was in that moment filled with life as I allowed the truth of God’s love to enter in and flood my being.

I guess you could say this mommy experienced a few obstacles this week in her attempt to hold it all together. But in the end whether it was realizing that God is holding them when I can’t, or still holding them when I should be and fail to. He showed me that I need to be filled at all times with his love and mercy, not just utilizing his living water as an emergency store house but that his life is forever flowing and that I can use it all the time. I guess we get in the survival mindset that we should save it up for a drought, but like a steady rain God desires us to be drenched in this living water living in the understanding that it will never fail or run out.

The question God asked me this week was “What do you lack?” If we are connected to the source we should lack nothing.  Check your connection and make sure that you are truly pulling from the source.

Psalm 23:1
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing
James 1:2-5
 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Prone to Wander

Prone to wander

In my Study of John 15, The Vine and the Branches, I have been contemplating the importance of abiding in God. It isn’t that I don’t want to stay in his presence, it is just that I seem to wander a bit and create situations that require me once again to run back into the shelter of his arms. I feel like a little lamb that gets a little too far from the shepherd in her quest for greener pastures and then sees that she is too far away and runs back in a frantic gallop. As I was thinking about my childish tendency to wander I remembered a story about a most exciting fishing adventure.

A father took his three daughters to a lake to go fishing. The oldest daughter and the youngest daughter were content to stay by the shore as the father cast the poles into the water and sat waiting. The middle daughter waited for what seemed an unbearable amount of time (probably less than five minutes) before deciding to go make her own luck. The father knew that she was inexperienced and needed his instruction and guidance but allowed his daughter to wander.
She was easily distracted by the rocks at her feet and the bubbles created by fish down below. She would cast once in one spot before quickly moving on. As she wandered around a bend that was out of the site of her family she noticed a very large fish floating on the surface of the water. Everything inside of her knew that this fish was probably compromised but she wanted to please her father and show him that she could do amazing things on her own. She used her pole to drag the fish into the shore, and then placing the hook in its mouth she made her way back to the group.
Everyone was so excited to see the catch and praised her abilities. It felt so good to be praised but inside she knew that she had not earned the praise that she so deeply desired. Her worry that she would be found out a phony consumed her and as they loaded up the fish to head home her stomach grew ill at the thought of what would happen when they cut open the fish. When they got home the father started to fillet the fish and as he got closer to the dreaded fish the middle daughter became more and more aware of the impending doom. As he picked up the fish she screamed uncontrollably “NO! Don’t do it, I didn’t catch it…. I found it.” She hung her head low in her own disappointment. Her father (trying to hold back his laughter) tilted her head up to meet his eyes. He was not disappointed, but very amused. “It’s okay, we have plenty of other fish.” No rebuke, no “I told you so”, just a loving father realizing that his daughter was prone to wander and he would have to keep his eyes on this one.

I think we tend to think that our loving father has a switch, anger and love. And that He is displeased with our tendency to wander. But God says that He "is" love. No matter how far we wander we are never fully out of his sight. It was the little girls’ loss, who wandered from her father and never got to learn or experience the company of her fathers’ wisdom and presence.
The whole point of the trip wasn’t to go fishing and bring in fish it was to enjoy each other’s company. All too often we set off on our own because we misunderstand the idea of staying close to God, we think that he wants us to go do something for him, when all he really wants is to do something with us. If we misunderstand the purpose for his nearness we will miss the opportunity to be loved on a very intimate and personal level. God wants to spend quality time with his children.
Isn’t it funny that when we go off trying to prove something often we come back with counterfeit spoils. Whenever we think God is looking for some kind of accomplishment, or product, or work, we lose the point of spending time with him. As a result of spending time with my father I would have learned to fish and probably caught a few, and I would have walked away with joy in my heart knowing that it was a day well spent hanging out with my daddy. And on the plus side I wouldn’t have had to bait my hook all by myself. God wants our presence not our catch of the day. When we walk off trying to do some great thing to impress or please God or others we find ourselves often coming up short.

The girl in the story is me. For all those others who are prone to wander, who maybe want the title of best fisherman ever, to be praised for our accomplishments, or are so distracted by creation we miss the creator; let’s remember to wait upon the Lord, let’s remember to set aside time just to be with our Father. Not so that we can become great but so that we can bask in his greatness. And in the process we are transformed into his likeness, we learn to rest and we learn to listen to his voice.

Father, Thank you for your greatness, thank you that you let me wander but have never let me out of your sight. I know that I have had a hard time sitting still so I ask you to help me be seated with you. I want to spend time with you and I have felt you calling me for such a very long time. Bring me into your presence and help me to make that place my home. I love you so much, I feel as though I need to go and make you proud but I know that the thing that brings you the most joy is when I come with no expectations and just sit with you. Help me to be silent and to listen when you speak and to not try to fill the silent moments with noise. I just want to put my head on your chest and rest in you. Thank you that you are patient with me. And that you have waited for me. You overwhelm me with your goodness. I love you Father. Amen.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Devil's Playground

The devil’s playground 

Have you ever found yourself sitting on the ground with the wind knocked out of you? One minute you are flying high, thinking everything is going your way and the next minute there you sit in your own disbelief of badly something went for you. Let me say that chances are you were playing on the devil’s playground.

We all know the verse: "Pride comes before a fall". But what most of us are very unaware of is that pride is not as obvious as one might think. Sometimes we are sitting on the floor before we even realize we in fact were the ones who put ourselves there.

A very long time ago the very first lie was told in the heavens. It was a lie that an angel told himself as he began to desire the praise and the glory all for himself. It was the lie that He would rise above God and be exalted. Sometimes God creates things that are just so beautiful that for a moment our eyes shift from the creator to the created. And in this moment we begin to believe in the notion that we ourselves are in a position of power.

Spiritual battles have been waging on ever since that moment that the heavens split due to the arrogant notion of a created being. We tend to think that we are equipped to fight these battles because of God’s favor and blessing in our lives but our Father has warnings for us in this fight. The enemy knows more about pride, selfishness, and greed than any other creature, for it has become his wardrobe and his skin, his mind is consumed by it. He is a master of deception and lies and clothed in his garments of pride he can not help but use these things against us at every turn.

We have to choose not to play on the devil’s playground. God has given us authority over the Prince of darkness. But unless we stand on the ground that God has set our feet firmly upon we will fall to the enemy’s deceptions.

God showed me a while back that worship is one of our greatest weapons against the enemy. I loved that idea! I was all excited about it! But as time went on my curiosity of what that meant grew and I wanted to understand why worship is so powerful. God simply showed me that there is one place the enemy never goes and will never go again (willingly), and that is the feet of God, and the foot of the cross of Christ Jesus. When Satan elevated himself in his pride he distanced himself so far from humility that worship to God is the furthest most point we can get from the enemy. God in his righteousness not only made a way for us to be clean and free from sins bondage He also made a safe place for us to go (No matter where we are) far from Satan and his lies.

My favorite stories of great victories came at the sound of worship to God. Listen for the sounds of the walls of Jericho coming down due to obedient, vulnerable, sacrificial shouts of Praise to God. Listen to the cells of the walls of Paul’s prison cell crumbling as worship is lifted to a great and mighty God. Do you see the harp of David giving him victory over a cruel Saul? When we position ourselves humbly at the feet of our God we utilize a refuge like no other in our lives.

The Devil has created a playground devised of Pride, selfishness and greed. What happens when we choose to live on the grounds of humility, sacrificial love, and a heart that gives worship unto God? If you have recently found yourself lying on the floor of what you thought was the ground of good intentions and wonder what went wrong, ask yourself the three question test.

Was it Pride (did I think I knew better than someone else)?
Was it Selfish (Did I pursue my (or my families) needs and wants above someone and at the cost of someone else)?
Was is Greed (Did I take something that belonged to someone else because I thought I would be a better manager or because I felt as though I earned or deserved it)?

It has been said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I would go further with that thought and even argue that good intentions are often the cover we use when we are operating out of one of those three actions and don’t want to get caught.
The enemy can bring us down to the ground of his playground every time. He knows his weapons are good. But we know our weapons are God’s. The Bible says that “no weapon that is fashioned against us shall stand.” But that is because we will be standing on higher ground.

So where do we go from here; the dirtiness of his playground? Do we get back on the swings of selfishness, or the slide of pride, or the monkey bars of greed? And we know that there are many other devises he uses. Or do we brush ourselves off and leave that desolate land of unforgiveness and seek out the shelter of our true and rightful king?

As for me, I will find myself asking God and others for forgiveness as many times as I need to, to keep my heart in his hands. And to keep my posture at his feet. I will be as Mary was; finding comfort at the precious feet of Jesus, pouring out precious perfume. This posture is also one that Christ showed us. When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet he was showing us a way to be close to the father. Of all the people who should have had the right to accuse, to defend to be prideful and haughty it was the son of the living God and yet even as he was sacrificed in the most humiliating and awful way. Love was in his heart, tears for us in his eyes and forgiveness flowed from the foot of that cross.

Do not for one minute waste the sacrifice of our precious and loving God because you are too busy fighting for what you feel is deserved and due to you. The enemy wants us to lose sight of the power found in humility, sacrifice and forgiveness so that we cannot live in freedom. Are you too busy looking at the flaws and sins of others to see that Christ died for yours. Are you so busy trying to get someone to see that they owe you, that you have missed the penalty paid for you on the cross?

We are poor masters even unto ourselves, but what need have we for a master when we have the greatest of all masters reaching out to us?

So many of Christ’s parables are about the good master. One such parable is of the Good Master forgiving an enormous debt and then having that debtor turn around and go seeking payment from someone who owed him. Another parable is about the servant who worked for a set wage and found himself angry when the master paid another servant the same wage for a less amount of time. And then of course the Story of the prodigal son, whose father welcomed his son with arms wide open after he had foolishly squandered his life savings. Then the brother unable to accept the fathers love for his brother was angry at such forgiveness.

My question is this? Are we so blinded by what we feel is fair and just and right and due us, that we put ourselves in such a prideful stance as to question the goodness of God. Our rightful response should be joy when God shows mercy to another. And we should be pleased when our Father opens his heart to our brother and to our fellow servants. Not too long ago we needed that mercy, we needed that forgiveness, we needed that favor and he gave us his very flesh torn apart to make a way to the Father’s feet.

Pride tends to make us very territorial with our Father. We are very accustomed to his gifts and what we don’t understand is that the abundance of God is so great and his love is so vast, that there is plenty of room in the Father’s house for everyone. Find yourself in a posture of worship at God’s feet, a position of service to others, and God will put you in a place of honor. I believe this is what is meant by Matthew 6:33,   But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”